Oceans Arctic Expedition June 2008 BBC2

Departure preparations

Today's report: The storm before the calm? | You might want one of these | Before you take the plunge with a walrus

The storm before the calm?

The run-up to a filming trip is all about planning what you want to happen – and preparing for what you don't. Tracked down at his desk quite late one evening, Oceans Producer Daniel Barry confesses to some sleepless nights in the week before the team leaves for Norway. What else is he expecting?

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Gemma Thomas

Not just thermals! Oceans Production Co-ordinator, Gemma Thomas on essential packing for the Arctic.

For several weeks now the kit has been piling up beside our desks. Apart from the usual things you'd expect to take, such as dive suits, masks, fleeces and emergency trauma kits, we also have a few unusual items.

Capturing underwater shots of walruses means taking safety seriously (read more below). In fact you might not want to get in the water near two tonnes of powerful, inquisitive mammal at all. So the film gear includes a pole-mounted camera we can lower from a boat.

Talcum powder makes those dive suits easier to get on, and we've got foam pipe lagging too – essential so fingers don't stick to metal tripod legs when filming in sub-zero temperatures.

Just some of the luggage

Cloths stick to lenses too, so paint brushes are better for keeping them clean. Eye masks are handy for getting some kip in the never-ending daylight.

It's quite something to see when it's all stacked up together. There's roughly 2000kg of kit, the weight of 1½ small family cars.

Before you take the plunge with a walrus

Göran Ehlmé is a diver with 10 years' experience studying walrus in Greenland. The Oceans team consulted him for advice. Here are his words of warning.

I've had my share of times when I thought it might all end on the seafloor with walruses frantically swimming around me.

In shallow water, the walruses have often charged me and I've been close to getting a clout from a tusk. Believe you me, that's very scary!

Svalbard walruses live in larger groups than in Greenland and there's evidence that they hunt and feed together rather than solo. That makes them more dangerous to a diver.

The animals seem to change their mood very rapidly. They can decide to charge without any warning. For divers, it's hard to 'read' what they're doing to gauge how best to play it safe.

Walruses often use their tusks to hit each other and anything else they dislike. The force if you're walloped by a tusk is enormous – a strike to the head could be lethal.

A diver is dwarfed alongside a Greenland walrus ©Göran Ehlmé

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